September 23, 2013

Medicine in the Nineteenth Century: Deadly Diseases Part 1: Causes of Death Compared to Today

Photo courtesy of Flickr Commons

While doing research for my next book, I began to think about the causes of death in children and teens back in the late 1800’s.  What did they die of and how does it compare to today.  The result, I must admit, is shocking.  Whereas homicide and suicide are in the top five causes of death for ages 10 to 24 in America in 2010, they do not appear at all in the statistics from 1899-1900. Here’s the breakdown:


1899-1900  Ages 5-14                                                            2010  Ages 5-14

1  Childhood infectious diseases
Unintentional injury
2  Respiratory infectious diseases
Malignant neoplasms
3  Accident /Injury
Suicide (age 10-14);congenital anomalies (ages 5-9)
4  Heart Disease
5  Tuberculosis
Heart disease (age 5-9);congenital anomalies(ages 10-14)


1899-1900  Ages 15-24                                              2010  Ages 15-24

(Based on adult statistics)

1  Pneumonia
Unintentional injury
2  Tuberculosis
3  Gastrointestinal infectious diseases
4  Heart disease
Malignant neoplasms
5  Cerebrovascular disease
Heart Disease


Of course, with modern medicine’s diagnostic tests, antibiotics and supportive care many of the deadly infectious diseases of the past have been conquered.  But there were plenty of guns around in the nineteenth century and the means of suicide were always available.  It is absolutely appalling that in America today our children are dying of homicide and suicide.  What has happened to us in the last 110 years?

For references and additional reading:

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